Stanford for Start-Ups

November 8th, 2016

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“There is nothing special about Stanford, everyone around the Bay Area tech scene has been there”.

Those were the throwaway words from a West Coast adviser, when I first mentioned that I had been asked to speak to this year’s class in Stanford’s Continuing Education program. Of course, those comments were directed to the university students, not the global audience of largely mature students and entrepreneurs enthusiastically engaged in a discussion about capital raising. Here is my findings from a really informative session:

  1. The dynamics of raising money at any stage are largely similar but the consequences vary immensely. When less than 25% of seed-funded startups fail to get to the third funding round (they have died, been acquired or are self-sustaining), many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of building and nurturing really strong personal support systems. Family, friends and wise counsellors, who have your best interests at heart, are willing to provide frank solicited advice and a supportive shoulder, when it doesn’t work out.
  2. The in vogue buzzwords are “agile money”. I prefer to talk about “resilient money.” Finding investors sufficiently agile to adapt to your changing needs is helpful but finding those that are sufficiently resilient in the tough and the good times, is really the gold standard.
  3. More than 80% of the class are positive about tech investment in the next 12 months and don’t believe we are in a tech bubble.
  4. Students often ask tougher questions of themselves than serial entrepreneurs. “How do I give myself the best shot at being a successful entrepreneur?” Perhaps it is the desire not to repeat others mistakes or the willingness to readily invest in improving their own skills, behavioural traits and expertise. Too often the mindset flips for the entrepreneur in the real world, “let’s save every cent”, when investing in their own personal needs (mentor, coach, advisor) is critical to their success.
  5. More than 60% are intrigued by corporate venture capital but certainly not beholden to its’ charms. Great question, “Why are corporate businesses suddenly experts in startup investing?” Many believe that CVCs remain highly susceptible to short-term changes in executive decision-making.
  6. Entrepreneurs learn best when they are willing to be vulnerable. In our case, to jump into the role play seat with little preparation and test their abilities to direct the conversation with an investor towards their desired goal.
  7. Understanding the distinctions between public and private investors such as a traditional VC Fund, a Family Office and a Corporate Venture Capital fund requires thinking about the future, not just the present or the past. What are their highest potential future needs? How are you uniquely qualified to address those needs?
  8. We over estimate geographical differences. A multi-lingual global audience of 75 entrepreneurs drawn from 5 continents, brought together by a singular objective, to learn the shortest quickest route to their desired objectives.
  9. Technology won’t replace “in the classroom” learning but tools such as Zoom, enable an increasingly intimate learning experience that certainly narrows the gap, at a a fraction of the cost for the host, guest lecturer and students.
  10. There is something special about Stanford – its’ global brand power. The ability to charge a premium price for global learning, to attract globally re-known lecturers and a culturally diverse group of students. I learn more than the students at these events and I can highly recommend it to others.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Losing The Potential Investor

November 7th, 2016

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Why do so many executives and entrepreneurs lose control of discussions with potential investors at an early stage in the capital raising process? Most don’t have a route map. A set of small steps that starts from the first approach direct or by their adviser and takes them through and beyond committed capital into the value creation phase. Since they have no way of knowing where they are, they don’t know when they are lost.

Here is three common mistakes, and quick ways to avoid the landmines:

  1. A Failure to Identify the “Economic Investor”. Definition: The individual within the investment firm with the ability to approve the investment, the ability to sign off on the terms sheet, whose fund  will support the investment into your business, who will be held accountable for success or failure and so forth. In large firms, private offices and funds, of course, there may well be multiple “economic investors”. Obstacle: Too much time is spent with non-investors or worse, you are caste as a peer of the junior folks, never welcome in the inner sanctum. Next Step: It is your job and that of your adviser BEFORE you enter the conversation ideally to know, who the economic investors are specifically and to work out the ideal conditions (warm referral) in which they will respond favourably to your request to meet. Thereafter, the goal is to build a comfort level and sufficient trust that an informal or informal relationship can ensue.
  2. Hiccup or Fatal Diversions. Having broken the ice with the “economic investor” in a first call or meeting, he or she asks that you meet with some of his junior analysts to qualify the investment opportunity, as he is currently “travelling / busy this week / unable to respond quickly” (code: you are not my priority). You have two options: say, “No, quite frankly, we are both first, making a strategic decision on whether to invest in a potential relationship, unless I am wrong we don’t need others to decide that for us. If not now, when can we meet or talk next?” or “Yes, we will happily agree to talk to them but we must have a definitive time and date for us to speak again. Specifically, to compare notes on what we hear and more importantly, to agree the nature and direction of our relationship.” The mistake many entrepreneurs make is once they meet the junior folks with a propensity to please them, they start engaging in a more detailed conversation (sharing follow-up information with them, agreeing to their next steps). They are now a “plaything” of the junior people, which is great for them but potentially deadly for you. The economic investor watching from the sidelines is quite happy to allow this to happen because it is one less priority for them, creates distance (another layer of protection) and the unpleasantness of rejecting your proposal. You have now descended from the executive floor to the second floor, not only had a conversation when the elevator doors open, you are now following them through the corridors on the second floor, at their speed and direction, getting further away from the executive’s office. I find that entrepreneurs of an amiable disposition or those that somehow feel fortunate to be in the building are most susceptible. There is also a cadre of restless entrepreneurs, who won’t take heed of their adviser’s warnings. Bye bye!
  3. Talking About Valuation Before Defining The Investor’s Objectives – I see this so often it is almost laughable. Unlike a game of monopoly or snakes and ladders, this isn’t bad luck, this is self-inflicted pain. You know the question is coming your way, you either choose to neatly sidestep it, by re-framing the conversation in the investor’s self-interest or you allow yourself to tread on it at your peril. Think about this way. How many times does the investor respond, “Wow, you are massively undervaluing your business” or “That is an eminently sensible valuation”? Perhaps, 1 in a 100. I’d say, 30% respond “that’s way too rich for us” (immediate termination), 40% respond “we are struggling with those kind of valuations”  (highly probable termination) and the final 29% “tell me where did you get that valuation from” (needs a lot of convincing). You are left constantly defending rather than explaining your approach to making your investors money. If it comes up early on, you are wise to say, “it would be unfair to throw a valuation at you without first explaining how we intend to accomplish your objectives and secondly,  determining whether a relationship is in both of our best interests. If you are willing to listen, we’ll happily address it at the appropriate moment.” (Note, if they won’t listen, they almost certainly see you as a commodity. Do you need that kind of investor relationship?).

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

FOG

October 25th, 2016

 

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Time and again, particularly in growth businesses, I see leaders proudly trumpeting their unplanned but hugely gratifying successes that they have achieved. When I ask about what decisions they will make today about planned future growth, their default is to say that we are in “pause mode”, and recall past stories of investing too early in entirely different businesses, at entirely different stages of growth. “I know it sounds silly, we know that we need to invest first and then enjoy the returns but we are not in that mindset, at present.”

The effects are the “stop-start” impact of growth on the top and bottom line. Sales pipelines that are at one moment overflowing and another running dry, revenues that have a strong couple of quarters followed by leaner quarters and increased volatility in profits. The volatility creates a sense of unease in management’s own thinking and often investor unease in management’s ability to achieve their projected profitable growth targets, as originally agreed. Confidence is a fragile vase, once shattered hard to put back again.

We all know that we must grow our businesses but coming to terms with the consequences of growth is seismic for some entrepreneurs and executives. From an investor’s perspective, management’s fear of growth (“FOG“), is as debilitating a condition for an organisation’s future as the actual consequences of the growth investments made. The consequences of investing too late or not at all, are rarely even considered after the event by management (the great business development hire you never made, the business you could have acquired, the market opportunity you could have secured and so on).

Understanding what are the causes of “FOG”, are fundamental to growing a thriving business. Why is it that management are unable to take prudent risk? Why cannot they put in place appropriate preventative and contingent actions? Why have they stopped trusting their own judgement?

The answers give you a more profound understanding of the management team, the beliefs that govern their actions and the results that in all probability will arise for investors.

There are, of course, rational consolidation moments in periods of high growth, to ensure growth is manageable and healthy or when there are dramatic macro environmental changes taking place in a designated market. What I am suggesting entrepreneurs and executives think about is the irrational moments, management’s self-inflicted fear of growth and the consequences for their key constituents. Are they afraid of the dark or the “monsters” that may appear in the dark?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

James Berkeley to Speak to Stanford Continuing Studies Start-Up Class On Uncommon Early-Stage Capital Raising Approaches

October 19th, 2016

 

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Berkeley to Discuss Strategy and Tactics for Global Entrepreneurs  

London, England— 19th October, 2016

James Berkeley, Managing Director of ELLICE CONSULTING LIMITED will be speaking to  the Fall 2016 class, “How to Build Successful Startups,” about how to get investors eager to meet you, the behaviours that turn them off and why “CASH”, a concept developed by Berkeley, is the quickest route to obtaining committed capital. The online Zoom session is scheduled for Thursday, 20th October, 2016 and is being co-hosted by Continuing Studies Program instructor John Kelley.

“I am constantly amazed by what I didn’t know two months ago. In bringing hundreds of investors and entrepreneurs together from around the world to address complex and ambiguous growth investments, continuing education is arguably the most under-valued aspect of the entrepreneurial journey. We invest blood sweat and tears in our business ideas and ask investors to validate their judgement by deploying scarce capital, yet as entrepreneurs we are often remiss in investing appropriately in our own skills, expertise and behavioural traits”, notes Berkeley, an expert in sourcing and deploying capital in world-class businesses. “The future for entrepreneurs is about “CASH”. Compulsive content, abundant credibility, striking rapport with investors and huge cash-on-cash returns. The good news, it has never been easier for entrepreneurs to stand out from the crowd so long as they are willing to engage with investors beyond the obvious steps.” Berkeley will help participants to translate his success practices into practical action for immediate application in their own businesses.

James Berkeley brings entrepreneurs and investors, who never imagined collaborating together to turn a business concept into an organisational reality. Today: an idea. Tomorrow: committed capital. He has worked extensively with North American, European, Middle Eastern and Asian venture capital funds, corporate venture capital, Family Offices and HNW entrepreneurs seeking proprietary deal flow and strategic deployment of capital into remarkable business ideas. He has helped over 120 investors and entrepreneurs in insurance, financial services, leisure, business services and technology source capital and accomplish record amounts of value creation in the past 5 years with impressive cash-on-cash returns.

Interview With Me: Risks Of International Expansion

October 17th, 2016

In an interview with ChronicleLive reporter Mark Lane, James explains why the risks of expansion are often overlooked as investors and management jump on the bandwagon of international growth, often with disastrous results.

Export Strategies Can Make or Break An Organisation 

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/first-steps-ladder-success-international-11970237 

Acending To The Top Step

October 17th, 2016

 

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Why do so many people consciously ignore the biggest risk to getting the business or opportunity, the absence of a peer-level trusting relationship with the individual(s), whose power and influence can scupper their ability to meet their client’s objectives? If the risk is obvious, why don’t they address it BEFORE they bid for the business or seek the opportunity. Do we have an attitude deficit (we are not a peer of those people or our immediate mid-level buyer won’t let us near them) or a skills deficit (intellectual firepower, use of language, comfort in a corporate strategic discussion and so forth)?

My experience is that the procrastination says more about how the individual views themselves (self-worth, value, scarcity) and less about the reality of the situation that they are faced with. If you are not willing to invest the time, skills and resources to address the risk (establish a peer-level trusting relationship) in advance, you are probably not “worthy” of the business or opportunity in future. Harsh but true?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Interview with Me: Financial Times

September 27th, 2016

The Financial Times Wealth Correspondent, Hugo Greenhalgh, sat down with James to discuss the impact of wealth creation, investment and the stark changes occurring in parts of London’s fabric since he first arrived in 1986.

Dickens’ “Greatest Thoroughfare in London” Subsumed By Coffee Chains

https://www.ft.com/content/328a7ccc-7bfa-11e6-b837-eb4b4333ee43

Interview With Me: Do’s and Don’ts of Investing in Private Comanies

September 27th, 2016

In an interview for U.S. News & World Report with the former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist at the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo, James talks about why many investors in private companies jump on the bandwagon of out-sized returns while overlooking the inherent risks.

http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-09-20/dos-and-donts-of-investing-in-private-companies 

 

 

What Does A Family Office Do

August 31st, 2016

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Spending time trying to define the differences between a “Private Office”, a “Private Investment Office”, a Single or Multi “Family Office”, is largely an exercise in futility. They are all labels that started with clarity but overtime have diffused into a host of different products, services and relationships serving the needs of HNW and UHNW individuals. There is no faculty. Today, there are hedge funds (SAC), private equity firms (Blue Pool Capital), investment firms (George Soros), lifestyle and concierge service firms, lawyers (DLA Piper), accountants (KPMG), search firms and a host of others morphing into one or more of these labels.

If you are establishing such an organisation today, seeking to utilise their services or do business with them, it is far more valuable to powerfully state, “we are an expert in …..” or ask “what exactly are you an expert in?” A great response, “We are the market-leading expert in accelerating the preservation of UHNW clients’ inter-generational wealth and the generation of income to support their lifestyle needs.” A lousy response, “we are an expert in financial and non-financial needs of UHNW clients including….(a laundry list of services)”

The listener wants to quickly know why THEY should give you the time of day. If you cannot peek their interest quickly, perhaps you are a commodity they can do without or you don’t value your own services highly? Which is it?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Idiotic Management: British Telecom (BT)

August 30th, 2016

A call from a Jennifer Williams at BT, our broadband service provider’s security department, alerts us to suspicious activity. The call request details send us to their main customer telephone (30 minute wait) or their chat line function, hosted in some far fetched location, where you spend 30 minutes trying to get someone, who can input your account details accurately.  If BT’s management are truly serious about lowering the costs of fraud, and improved customer care, they would do well shopping their own business processes. They make the keystone cops look like MI5.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.